Unis must focus on gifted pupils

April 30, 1999

Universities should lose grants if they fail to establish effective school partnerships aimed at supporting the brightest pupils, MPs said this week.

The Education and Employment Committee report into highly able children recommends that the Higher Education Funding Council for England make it a condition of grant that universities build better links with local schools. This would form part of a national strategy for the education of gifted children who, the committee claims, are let down by schools.

The 62-page report, published on Wednesday, says that such links might involve highly able school children undertaking research leading to mini-dissertations assessed at higher levels by academics. Universities should also consider making academics, postgraduates and undergraduates available to act as mentors to gifted children.

Placing academically gifted pupils in older classes or even into university aged 16 or under is not necessarily the best approach, the report says. It suggests that pupils who outgrow the school curriculum might be better off taking courses at local further education colleges before progressing to university. They might also benefit from gap years in paid or voluntary work.

The report criticises academe for the "dearth of research" into effective provision for highly able children. But committee members said that they would expect that the growing interest in the subject to lead to more money for research projects.

The report also suggests that initial teacher training could give a higher priority to effective teaching and classroom organisation strategies for highly able pupils. However, it stops short of recommending this be pursued at present because of the amount of work involved in the existing ITT curriculum.

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